US nursing homes have significantly reduced the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs among their elderly residents, responding to pressure from many directions. Yet advocacy groups insist that overmedication remains a major problem, and want the pressure to intensify. According to the latest data from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the percentage of long-term nursing home residents being given antipsychotic drugs dropped from about 24% in late 2011 to under 16% last year. Decreases were reported in all 50 states, with the biggest in Tennessee, California, and Arkansas. But advocacy groups say even the lower rate of antipsychotic usage is excessive, given federal warnings that elderly people with dementia face a higher risk of death when treated with such drugs, per the AP.
"Given the dire consequences, it should be zero," said attorney Kelly Bagby of AARP Foundation Litigation, which has engaged in several court cases challenging nursing home medication practices. Bagby contends that the drugs are frequently used for their sedative effect, not because they have any benefit to the recipients. The advocacy groups' long-running campaign was reinforced Monday with the release of a detailed report by Human Rights Watch urging federal and state authorities to take tougher measures against improper use of antipsychotic drugs. Analyzing the latest government data, HRW estimates there are now about 179,000 people in nursing homes who get antipsychotics every week without having a diagnosis for which the drugs are approved. (Read more nursing homes stories.)